By Victoria Ojeme
The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega says power hungry leaders in West Africa are threatening the democracy of the region by circumventing the autonomy of the judiciary and electoral bodies.
Professor Jega stated this today during a press interview at the high-level parliamentary seminar on 20 years of democratic elections in West Africa in Ghana’s coastal city of Winneba on the theme: Evaluating Two Decades Of Democratic Elections In The ECOWAS Region: Achievements, Challenges And The Way Forward.”
“Where we have political parties, I am sorry to use my county, Nigeria, where they are dominated by money bags or what we call god fathers who first of all undermine party democracy, determine who the candidate will be outside of the democratic tenet or even the rules or regulations of political parties, and put candidates in the electoral process and bond them with money, mobilization of ethic, religious and other parochial tendencies and also undermine the legal process then no matter how effective or the integrity of the electoral bodies, that elections will not be credible,” Jega said.
He argued that if elections are so important in ensuring quality representations and quality of governance, then everything needs to be done to increase the quality of the preparation and the conducts of elections, and also the quality of the electoral systems that will be used to ensure that citizens actually elect good and quality representatives.
Jega said that in “Many countries in Africa generally and Member States of ECOWAS, there is what can be called a crisis of expectations with regards to the performance of democratic regimes generally and more specifically, the outcomes of electoral politics. All of which impacts negatively on the quality of governance.
“And I think that again when we examine the conduct of elections in the last two decades in ECOWAS Member States, we can see some progress that has been made but obviously there are lots of challenges which remains, and to address these challenges, we need to pay attention to bringing about substantial and substantives reforms of the electoral processes and electoral systems which we use in the West African Sub-region.
“Most specifically, we need to pay attention first to the integrity of the election management body itself. I think this is key because whatever lacks integrity is unlikely to bring outcomes to integrity. It is very important we pay attention to this. But also, we need to ensure that there is a robust legal framework which also has integrity as a framework for the preparations and conducts of elections.
Quite often the legal framework to which electoral bodies conduct elections leaves much to be desired, in terms of the provision which will make for easy, effective, efficient discharge of functions of election bodies as well as provisions which will protect the relative autonomy of the election management body in the discharge of its functions. It is very important that attention has to be paid in the appointment of election management body to not only personal integrity but competence and impartiality, if not neutrality, and these are very important values that can help not only establish an effective and efficient and component body but can also withstand negative pressures either from incumbent regimes, or from political parties, or even from candidates.
“Regrettably, most of our political parties, both incumbent governments and candidates want to win elections either by hook or by crook and if you have a weak election management body or an election body that can be politically factious then there will be challenges of achieving at the core objectives of elections as it relates to democracy and governance.
Jega explained that independence and integrity of the electoral body with a good legal framework that can protect democratic establishments will go a long way to ensure selection of good representatives and the ultimate objectives of having good governance.
He noted that elections are not conducted by an election management body alone as it takes the partnership of a good quality electoral body with political parties, Civil Society Organisations, including the governance process, whether the executive or the legislative arm of government to deliver.
“Unfortunately, in our region and most part of Africa, the electoral management body is blamed for whatever happens and you can improve the competence and the professionalism and the efficiency of electoral management bodies to conduct good elections but these elections can be undermine by the character and disposition of political parties or the candidates or the incumbent governments that wants to ensure outcomes are beneficial to them.”